There’s something not quite right with his new apartment. Steve can’t put his finger on what it is exactly.
Maybe it’s the way the door creaks no matter how many times he oils the hinges.
Maybe it’s the way the wiring in the dingy kitchen is so terrible that he’s had to replace the toaster, the water heater and the microwave.
Maybe it’s the way that his new flatmate Bucky, a barista who seems to hate all human interaction, sees nothing wrong in eating week-old Mac ‘N’ Cheese, even though it’s far past the point of safe human consumption.
Or maybe it’s the way he feels that he’s been closing a lot more doors than he’s been opening.
The thing with the apartment was, it was dirt cheap. A simple two-bedroom accommodation with attached bathrooms, a kitchen space and living room, all within his budget. It was like a dream come true and when he’d shown up for the viewing, the only that he had been struck by was how mundane the place seemed.
It was in a relatively quiet area of town, close enough to the bus stop that he could comfortably get to and from work. On the third out of five floors, the apartment was nestled in the corner of the building, unassuming in its location, but just beyond the reach of the corridor lights. The real estate agent had shrugged when he’d pointed out that the white tube light above the door was flickering ominously.
“It’s not attached to the property itself, Mr. Rogers, I have no real information about that. I’m sure that’s something you could take up with the Owners’ Association if you wanted.”
Inside, the place is what he could only describe as bland. The walls are painted cream, the few pieces of furniture that the old owners have left behind are an elegant mahogany. He inspects the kitchen and his bedroom, making appropriate noises as the realtor points out features that he really doesn’t care about.
Steve knows he’ll sign the lease.
He needs the apartment because it’s close to his new job and he starts work in a week. Now that his initial plan of living with Sam had fallen through, this was the next best option.
The move into his new place took the better part of a day. Sam and Riley help him shift his stuff in and at the back of his mind, he wonders if he’ll bump into his elusive neighbour. He’s heard the other man come in once or twice, but he’s not seen him yet.
That evening he takes out the last of the cardboard boxes and makes his way up the stairs. He’s planning what he’s going to do for dinner when he reaches the turning to his apartment and he notices with a start that the front door is wide open. That strikes him as odd because he’s sure he closed it and from what he can tell, his flatmate is normally meticulous about it as well.
He supposes accidents happen. Entering his new home for the next two years, he shuts the front door behind him and locks it.
The fluorescent white light flickers erratically as he does.
The next morning, as he makes himself breakfast, his flatmate wanders into the kitchen. Steve learns that his name is Bucky Barnes, he’s working as a barista nearby and that he’s taking a year off from school. He also learns that Bucky has a sense of humour that can be sharper than the knife he’s using to dice onions with, and that even though the man seems to despise all other forms of life, he’s actually a really nice guy.
(At least that’s what he gathers when Bucky presses the last of his own supply of milk into Steve’s hands, ignoring his protests because Steve hadn’t got any for himself).
Bucky’s about to leave for work when it strikes him.
“Hey man, I uh, don’t mean to pester you about this on the first day, but, just make sure you close the front door behind you alright?”
Surprised, Bucky turns around and stares at him, “I always lock the front door. It’s a force of habit from when I was a kid.”
“The door was open last night though.” Steve insists.
Bucky turns around completely now, gaze focused on Steve. “Pal, I wasn’t even at home last night. I had a late shift and then went to a friend’s place to spend the night. Are you sure you just didn’t forget to lock it properly? The lock’s kind of dodgy, it sometimes needs a little special attention to get it to work right. I’ve been meaning to get it fixed but I, uh… haven’t been able to afford it just yet.”
He says the last part sheepishly, rubbing his wrist with his opposite hand, and Steve hastens to reassure him, “Hey no, don’t worry about it. That’s something we can look at together, that’s why you’ve got a new flatmate right? And you’re right, I didn’t realise about the lock till you told me, but I must have not closed it tight enough or something. Sorry about bothering you with that.”
“Don’t apologize,” Bucky says, shaking his head, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
That’s the last time he thinks about the door for the rest of the week. Between his new job as a writer for a local newspaper and settling in to his new apartment, it’s the last thing on his mind. Sometimes, Steve finds himself missing home, missing his small cramped apartment where his mother lived, which among other things, was well-lit and where the shadows in the corridor didn’t seem to loom threateningly in the nights.
Bucky makes the move easier. They eat dinner together sometimes, when their schedules don’t clash and Steve listens to Bucky complain about the people he meets during his shift. It’s always amusing to hear him emphatically complaining about customers as he waves his hands around the room, sometimes narrowly avoiding knocking over his plate.
It happens one night when he’s talking to Sam.
“I’m telling you man, there’s no way I’m blowing money on a new laptop. There’s nothing wrong with the one I have right now.”
“Steve, the one you have right now is hanging on by a thread.”
“Sam, come on…” He’s cut-off by what he swears is the sound of footsteps down the corridor leading to the living room.
“What the heck?” he wonders aloud, switching on his room light.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asks, alert now that he can hear the worry in Steve’s voice.
Forcing himself to sound normal, he says, “It’s nothing. It’s just been a long day, just thought I heard someone walking down the hallway.”
“Maybe it was Bucky?” suggests Sam.
“Can’t be. He’s not home for another hour at least. I’m going to go check it out alright?”
Sam sighs frustratedly over the line, “Man, if you hang up that phone before you tell me what’s happening I will personally drive over there to kick your butt into the next week.”
Swallowing thickly, Steve makes his way quietly to the living room.
Only to find that there’s no one there. Unsettled, he rushes back to his room and locks his room door, before telling Sam that he didn’t find anything.
“Do you want me to get Riley to call Bucky and ask him to come early?” Sam asks and really Sam is the best friend ever because he doesn’t even question Steve for a second.
“No it’s ok. He’ll be back soon anyway.”
Sam changes the topic, switching over to the game from last night and doesn’t hang up till Steve hears the front door unlock and Bucky walks in.
He’s about to switch off his light and go to bed when he hears Bucky pause outside his own door and inhale sharply.
Curious, he leans forward and presses his ear to the thin wall just in time to hear his flatmate mutter, “What the… That’s weird, I could have sworn I closed this door when I left.”